Shelter chief arrested

Operator of no-kill refuge gives up all animals

HARRISON COUNTY

The director of a South Mississippi no-kill shelter could face misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty for each of the more than 300 animals she vowed to protect.

Harrison County deputies Tuesday arrested Jonean Crowle, 58, of Pass Christian, at the South Mississippi Animal Rescue Team and Refuge at a dirt pit on Wolf River Road. She was charged with several counts, and more are expected, said Sheriff Melvin Brisolara. Crowle was not taking adequate care of the animals in her charge, he said.

“What’s happening to my animals?” Crowle wailed as officers handcuffed her and placed her into the back of a patrol car.

Brisolara said authorities found about 225 dogs, 80 cats, some goats and a pony on the property, which is on less than an acre of land Crowle has been using while searching for a larger location. A possum and raccoon were turned over to the Mississippi Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Crowle was released from jail Tuesday night on her own recognizance after she released the animals to the sheriff’s department.

Jode’ Braxton-Hignight, development and PR director of the Humane Society of South Mississippi said HSSM will be taking ownership of the animals. “We’re very proud that she surrendered the animals over to us. From here they can get the treatment they need,” she said.

Braxton-Hignight said the animals today would be brought to the Harrison County Farm, which is operated by the Sheriff’s Department. The animals will be evaluated and some will be placed on treatment plans while others will be transported out of the area by the national organization American Humane Group, she said. “We want to make sure we can put any animal that can be adopted out into a loving home,” she said.

When authorities raided the refuge Tuesday, they found animals crammed into crates, a dog with a broken leg and the pony couldn’t walk because of its overgrown hooves, Brisolara said.

“This is not the way you take care of animals,” he said.

Brisolara said national animal rescue agencies had been called to find homes for a majority of the animals.

Ocean Springs resident John Maas a first responder with American Humane, called Harrison County Animal Control officers, Humane Society of South Mississippi and the SPCA on Friday after going to the site to volunteer and discovering the “appalling” conditions, he said.

“It’s abuse and neglect on a criminal level,” he said. “This isn’t smart and this isn’t rescue. This is warehousing animals.”

Maas claimed the refuge had no running water and no covered shelters, and said he found several animal carcasses in the woods nearby. He said 20 volunteers from a New York university who came to help Crowle move were in tears because of the animals’ plight.

But volunteer Peggy Worth said the animals she saw were fine. “They’re well cared for,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, it’s not as bad as they’re making it out.”

Before her arrest, Crowle watched authorities from behind crime scene tape.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve never had anyone accuse me of animal cruelty,” she said.

Crowle said the refuge has spent the past two weeks moving from one side of the property to another, at the owner’s request. Several dogs were in crates while 12-foot-by-12-foot donated runs and kennels were built, she said.

“We don’t give up on them getting homes,” she said. “We don’t put an expiration date on them.”

By DONNA MELTON – dmelton@sunherald.com

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